Portrait of Russia

A visit to the Soviet exhibition at the New York Coliseum raises more questions than it answers. A visitor sees, for example, a Rus­sian-made automobile. But what does this tell him about the com­parative state of the Russian and American motor industries? What does the Russian car cost to pro­duce? How does it run? Is it ac­tually in mass production? How many are turned out? How many Russians could afford one?

American automobile engineers tell us that the Chaika, for ex­ample (a car made only for offi­cials), is not mass produced, that there is no original engineering in it, that the Russian designers are imitating even our mistakes. But most of the questions above are questions that even an American engineer cannot answer. A better expert is someone who has lived in Russia. Max Frankel, who spent two years in the Soviet Union as correspondent for the New York Times, tells us that a visitor to the Russian show can see far more there in two hours than he was able to see in his two years in Russia—"far more especially of the stuff of Soviet wishful dreams."

Image of Abundance

"The products and models at the exposition are… a distinct sur­prise to someone who works and travels in the Soviet Union…. The Soviet exhibition strives for an image of abundance with an apartment that few Russians en­joy, with clothes and furs that are rarely seen on Moscow streets, and with endless variations of televi­sion, radio, and recording equip­ment, cameras, and binoculars that are not easily obtained in such quality or range in Soviet stores…. The men and women employed as guides have been hastily dressed in American suits and dresses and shoes….

"The restraint in showing toys and drugs and household goods reflects the low priorities assigned to such goods in the Soviet Union.

.The large, sleek Packard-like limosine Zil is produced exclusively for chauffeured government duty. The small Moskvich advertised as an ‘economy’ car would cost a Rus­sian worker at least a year’s wages and many years of patient wait­ing….

"The majority of Russian city folk must still live in communal apartments, four and more to a room, sharing bathroom and kitchen with two and more fami­lies…. Few Russians enjoy built-in kitchen cabinets like those in the model apartment. A few simi­lar sets caused a sensation in Mos­cow last year when imported from Finland…. Shower curtains are hard to find….

"A visit to the Soviet Union ex­poses glaring paradoxes of ugly slums and palatial subways, muddy roads, and huge jet planes. These contrasts are glossed over at the Coliseum."

Real Facts on Output

To those who have followed fac­tual studies of the Russian econ­omy there should be nothing sur­prising in this report. In News­week of May 27, 1957, I discussed the careful study of Professor G. Warren Nutter covering 37 lead­ing industries, from which he con­cluded that "Soviet industry still seems to be roughly three and a half decades behind us in levels of output and about five and a half decades in levels of per capita output." More recent studies have shown that in Russia there is one agricultural worker for every 10 sown acres as against one for every 60 sown acres in the U.S. Yet Russia produces only a third as much meat and half as much grain per capita as the U.S. The Russian occupies less than a fifth as much dwelling space as an American. Most families have only a single room in which all mem­bers sleep.

These facts reveal how ludicrous are the Russian claims that they are about to equal or surpass us in "peaceful production" or living standards for their people. In this respect they are still enormously behind not only the U.S. but nearly every country in Western Europe. But we should carefully distin­guish between production for peace and production for war. In the lat­ter, Russia has made giant techno­logical strides—precisely because she has put that goal first.

And in propaganda, she is enor­mously our superior. She can put on an exhibition that gives false impressions of merit, whereas our own exhibition at Brussels ex­hibited and apologized for our slums, and the new one at Moscow will have a painting lampooning our generals.

Newsweek, July 20, 1959

Further Reading


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